Shared vulnerabilities? Connecting climate and health in cities: Make Change Happen podcast episode 7

Cities and towns are hugely impacted by both climate change and public health crises. This combined (and intertwined) threat weighs heaviest on the poorest urban communities. Health and climate specialists are already working hard on reducing urban risk and increasing resilience, but what has COVID-19 shown us about how these experts could learn from each other, and how they could work better with knowledgeable local actors? This episode explores how cross-sector learning and collaboration may be one key to creating more resilient and equitable cities.

Article, 06 August 2020

IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides an opportunity to hear our researchers and guests discuss key global development challenges and explain how they are working to support positive change.  

This seventh episode was inspired by considering the links between public health crises and the risks of climate change in cities; it forms part of our efforts to observe and contribute to forward-looking responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hosted by Anna Walnycki, senior researcher in our Human Settlements research group, the discussion features Aditya Bahadur, principal researcher with the Human Settlements research group; Sarah McIvor, climate change researcher at IIED; and Annie Wilkinson, an anthropologist and health systems researcher at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

This episode also includes valuable reflections from climate change researcher Anmol Aurora, based in India, and Dr Joseph M. Macarthy, executive director of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), who joins the conversation from Freetown.

Breaking sector boundaries to create more resilient cities

In this episode of ‘Make Change Happen’, the guests discuss the similarities between public health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impacts of climate change on urban settings in the global South. One significant element in common: both have devastating human consequences.

The discussion covers the nature of emergency epidemic responses, which are still largely top-down, and how these are distinct from the many public health programmes that successfully engage with community infrastructure. The guests then explore whether the more inclusive and preventative approaches taken by some urban risk and climate change projects could help map a path to including urban communities and other local-level actors in the prevention and management of health emergencies. 

Queue of men wearing masks waiting to check their temperature by a man wearing a medical suit.

Both climate change and public health emergencies have devastating human consequences on urban settings. This episode of 'Make Change Happen' examines similarities and cross-sector learning between public health crises and the impacts of climate disaster in cities and towns in the global South (Photo: Gwydion M. Williams via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

After discussing some examples, the guests turn to consider what COVID-19 has shown us about the potential of ‘big data’ as a tool to influence policy. They look at how the localised data gap – which affects the efficacy of climate, health and disaster risk and prevention projects, especially those based in informal settlements – could be filled.

Walnycki closes the episode by asking each guest and contributor to reflect on the conversation and describe the one change they most wish to see: what is needed for healthier, fairer and more resilient cities to flourish?

Additional resources

  • C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. C40 supports cities to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.
  • The LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR) aims to develop an over-arching least developed countries (LDC) vision for adapting towards a climate-resilient future by 2050; the vision will be led and driven by LDCs, driving forward climate action in line with their needs and priorities.
  • The Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP) is a programme of work focusing on the social dimensions of emergency responses: it works on emergencies that relate to health, conflict or the environment, and focuses efforts on exploring the political economy, community engagement and cultural logics, social difference and vulnerabilities of those emergencies.
  • SLURC is a globally connected research centre that aims to generate capacity building as well as research initiatives in cities across Sierra Leone, focused on the well-being of residents of informal settlements.


Head and shoulders photo of Aditya Bahadur

Aditya Bahadur is a principal researcher in IIED’s Human Settlements research group. He's a specialist in climate-resilient urban development, transformative approaches for risk reduction, monitoring and evaluation of resilience initiatives, designing and delivering research and learning programmes on climate and development, supporting governments in policy and institutional development for resilience.

Head and shoulders photo of Sarah McIvor

Sarah McIvor is a researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group. She is an international development professional with more than seven years of experience in climate change, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction. She has worked with community-based organisations, civil society, governments and UN agencies, from local to national to international level.

Head and shoulders photo of Annie Wilkinson

Annie Wilkinson is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). She is an anthropologist and health systems researcher working with the health and nutrition cluster and the cities cluster.

Head and shoulders photo of Anna Walnycki 

Anna Walnycki (host) is a senior researcher in IIED’s Human Settlements research group. She is an anthropologist who specialises in inclusive urbanisation and basic service provision in the global South. Over the last ten years she has supported the work of urban civil society organisations such as Slum Dwellers' International and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, and undertaken extensive participatory research in East Africa, the Andes and Lebanon.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast will provide informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

You can subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app as follows:

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow some of the people you have heard in this episode on Twitter at @AnnaWalnycki, @AdiBahadur@wordsbyanmol and @ALSWilkinson. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.